Authentic sexual expression is always rooted in two purposes: procreative and unitive. The procreative aspect of sex is the couple’s openness to life. The unitive is the fulfillment of the one-flesh union of man and woman within the context of marriage. If the procreative or unitive act is ever removed from the context of the sexual act, then the act is always disordered. The misuse of such a beautiful gift is an offense against God because it harms the person misusing the gift. Improper use of the sexual act will always hurt us and others, sometimes in ways that are not always easy to see, and God never wants us to be hurt.
By looking into some of the issues that can crop up in marriage, it is our hope that we can be vigilant of our own experiences. Virtue requires a habit of a firm disposition to choose the good which can preserve us from falling or backsliding into sin.
Forms of Lust in Marriage
To lust within marriage is to crave sexual gratification outside of wedlock or in a manner which is disordered. Lust is always the opposite of the goal: chastity. St. John Paul II says that lust is different from simply being attracted to another. He says that lust is a devaluing of the attraction between man and woman which reduces the personal riches of the opposite sex to an object for gratification of sexuality. Persons become objects in lust. Put another way, if sexual pleasure is “sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes (CCC 2351)” then it is lust.
Sexuality within marriage is a good gift from God. However, when we use this gift against the plan of God, we are giving into the vice of lust. Within marriage, this can take a few different forms.
Total Self-Gift Of The Spouses
Marriage is total, free, faithful, and fruitful. It is a total self-gift. St. Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church… (Eph 5:25).” Christ loves the Church fully! He gives Himself totally to His Bride the Church, especially on the cross. He freely offers Himself to Her at every moment. The Church does not need to work for the grace Christ’s gives. It is a gift. Christ will always be faithful to His Bride saying, “… I am with you always, to the close of the age (Mt 28:20).” His love is always fruitful. In the Sacraments, the Church offers the work of human hands and hearts and Christ transforms them into life-giving vehicles of grace.
If husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. In the Sacrament of Matrimony, the husband has become more configured to Christ and the wife more configured to the Church. The Church receives the love of Christ, returns that love, and bears much fruit. Ideally in marriage, the husband loves his wife, she returns that love in kind, and the two bear much spiritual fruit and sometimes, nine months later, physical fruit.
In their union, the two become one flesh and in their openness to life, they reflect the fruitfulness of Christ and His Church. Sexual intimacy must only be practices in this context. Even more importantly, the sexual love between husband and wife mirrors the very life of the Blessed Trinity. The Father loves the Son, the Son responds with love, and the Holy Spirit proceeds of that love. Husband and wife are called to mirror this total gift of self.
Consent Within Marriage
Sexual intercourse belongs only within the confines of the marriage covenant. However, this does not mean that the husband or the wife is obliged to renew their covenant at any given time. There are times when the marital embrace is simply not an option. If the husband or wife is sick, they are not free to totally give of themselves. Therefore, to coerce them into sexual intimacy would wholly inappropriate and a violation of the love of the spouses.
Consent always matters in sexuality. In fact, it is the consent of the spouses on their wedding day that actually makes the marriage. The exchange of vows between the two is what establishes the covenant. Therefore, every sexual act within marriage is an opportunity to renew that covenant.
Freedom must always be preserved. Without consent, there is a serious restriction of freedom. A husband or wife must be free to say they are not in the mood, are tired, are sick, or any other reason they might have.
Consent within marriage is finding a middle ground and realizing that no one has power over the other. Loving your spouse as Christ loves His Church means always giving of yourself fully. When married, a wife has given her conjugal rights to her husband, but the husband has also given his conjugal rights to his wife. Therefore, there is great trust and respect needed between spouses. As soon as one of the spouses feels entitled the other, there is the temptation of sexual abuse and breach of trust.
Pornography And Healing
Pornography is an epidemic in our society. With the advancements in modern technology which has interconnected the cyber world, the rise in internet pornography has sky-rocketed. Children are being exposed at earlier and earlier ages through spam emails, insufficient parental controls, and through friends or older siblings. Therefore, it is not unlikely for either husband or wife to have been exposed to pornography.
For those who have formed addictions to pornography and/or self-stimulation, the problem does not simply go away with marriage. The viewing of pornography is an offense against the very love of God. It is a perversion of the conjugal act which does “grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others (CCC 2354).” The viewing of pornography is an illusion, and often times the actors are the victims of sexual abuse, sufferers of diseases, and even human traffic victims.
Within marriage, the effects of pornography can be devastating to a relationship. If a husband or wife finds that their spouse has been viewing pornography, trust can be shattered or put to the test. Viewing images and videos on a screen, in a book, or through any other medium is, in effect, an escape into a fantasy world. For a spouse, this can lead to feelings of inadequacy with them believing that they are not good enough in comparison to the images.
If you or someone you know is trapped in the cycle of addiction and wants to break free, there are many steps that can be taken to put pornography behind you and embrace true freedom.
Fidelity Of Thought
We do not need to seek out pornography to be unfaithful to our spouse. If you are out in public and see someone that you find attractive, this is not, in itself, lust. God made mankind and He made us good. He made us beautiful. The human body is a beautiful work of art. However, when our chaste admiration goes too far, then lust steps in. For the married person, lustful thoughts directed toward another are always disordered and are an act of infidelity. As Jesus said, “But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Mt 5:28).”
Practically speaking, we cannot walk around blindfolded. At the same time, the Church says that we never truly master chastity. Therefore, what can be done to avoid this type of infidelity? A good habit would be to pray for the person’s soul that we find attractive and thank God for their beauty. This is a redirection of that lust which can build virtue if done habitually and intentionally. We hand the beginnings of those lustful inclinations over to the Lord and it becomes an opportunity for prayer.
Adultery is an affront to God and does deep harm to a marriage. The Church ardently recommends that those who have committed adultery or have been hurt by adultery seek marriage counseling and seek reconciliation. Despite the feelings of betrayal and hurt, Jesus calls us to forgiveness and reconciliation. What has been done is completely unacceptable, but Christ’s mercy is bigger than any sin.
An adulterous relationship can begin with lustful thoughts which then progress to fantasizing or flirting. This can be a form of emotional adultery. If this progresses to the physical level, it is what is normally called adultery. This is a serious offense against God because marriage must be faithful. To be unfaithful is a grave injustice. Lust is a temptation of the flesh, but a willing spirit can embrace Christ and pursue chastity.
Openness To Life
Sexuality without the union of husband and wife is disordered, but sexuality without the openness to life is equally disordered. A faithful husband and a faithful wife might unite together freely, but this expression of love ceases to be total self-gift if the spouses withhold their fertility from one another. Therefore, sexual intimacy is incomplete and therefore harmful if the spouses are not open to the possibility of life.
God is always in control of creation. He wills that man and woman should cling together as one flesh in order to procreate. God allows husband and wife to take part in creating another unrepeatable human being with an eternal soul. Coming together in conjugal love while using any form of artificial contraception is not what sex is made for. It would simply be mutual use ordered towards sexual pleasure. Sex is pleasurable, but it is a powerful act that cannot be divorced from both union AND procreation.
God created man and woman to be complementary with one another physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. At the very beginning of mankind, God instituted marriage as an image of His own blessed life in the Trinity. He gifts husband and wife with the joy and pleasure of sexual intimacy as a sacred foretaste of Heaven, as a renewal of the covenant of marriage, as the privileged vehicle of human procreation, as a balm to salve relational wounds, and so much more. To treat this great gift as anything less is to misuse a great gift.
Chastity is a lifelong journey of strength, self-control, mastery, virtue, and love. Practicing chastity in marriage is a gift to God because it respects His lordship over the proper ordering of His gifts to us. Practicing chastity in marriage is a gift to your spouse because he or she has been gifted to you to honor and cherish. Practicing chastity in marriage is a gift to yourself, because it is a part of ordering your own life well. May God grant us the strength to keep up the good fight.
Image credit: https://www.cathopic.com/img/8325/
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